In this report, Jim Green and Dimity Hawkins explore Australia’s long and complex engagement with nuclear waste issues. With the failure to remediate atomic bomb test sites, and repeated failures to establish a national nuclear waste repository, the approaches of successive Australian governments to radioactive waste management deserve close scrutiny. A recurring theme is the violation of the rights of Aboriginal First Nations Peoples and their successful efforts to resist the imposition of nuclear waste facilities on their traditional lands through effective community campaigning and legal challenges. Green and Hawkins argue for the incorporation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into Australian law, and amendments to the National Radioactive Waste Management Act to remove clauses which weaken or override Indigenous cultural heritage protections and land rights. In addition, they highlight the need for studies, clean-up and monitoring of all British nuclear weapons test sites in Australia in line with the positive obligations in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). In light of the failure to manage existing radioactive waste management challenges, it must be questioned whether the Australian government can successfully manage the challenges of high-level nuclear waste management posed by the AUKUS defence pact and the plan to purchase and build nuclear-powered submarines.
This report was produced as part of a project on Nuclear Disarmament and the Anthropocene: Voices from Pacific Island Countries, sponsored by Ploughshares Fund.
About the Authors
Dr Jim Green is the National Nuclear-Free Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, and former editor of the “Nuclear Monitor” newsletter published by the World Information Service on Energy and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. He has an Honours degree in Public Health and a Doctorate in Science and Technology Studies for his thesis on the debates over the replacement of Australia’s nuclear research reactor.
Dimity Hawkins AM is an Australian nuclear-free activist and researcher, currently a Co-Coordinator of the Nuclear Truth Project. She was a co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and is an active campaigner and Australian Board member. Her work centres on advocacy for nuclear abolition, particularly alongside affected community members and civil society partners. Her research focuses on the history of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. Dimity was awarded an Order of Australia Honour in 2019 for “significant service to the global community as an advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.”
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Image: Barngarla Traditional Owners outside the Federal Court in Adelaide, March 2023 (Jim Green)